Dilan Markanday says he is proof that with talent, and opportunity, there are pathways to succeed in football, irrespective of background.

Rovers’ January signing was the special guest at the ‘Emerging South Asian Rovers’ talent identification days, as the club’s Academy opened its doors to 67 youngsters.

Markanday became the first player of South Asian heritage to represent the club when making his debut in January, and was on hand to watch the training sessions at Rovers’ Academy training base.

Youngsters, aged between six and eight, had been selected by schools from across Blackburn with Darwen to take part in the talent identification event.

The club linked up with the Professional Footballers Association after their research found that only 0.78 per cent of players in the Academy system come from South Asian backgrounds.

And with statistics showing that 50 per cent of Under-16s within the education systems of Blackburn with Darwen are of South Asian heritage, the event was to highlight the opportunities that are available for youngsters should they have the talent.

Markanday joined Rovers from Tottenham Hotspur in January, having joined Spurs’ Academy at the age of 11 when spotted playing for a grassroots team.

“I’ve always loved playing football, playing grassroots to eventually coming through the Tottenham ranks and hopefully that journey continues and keeps getting better,” Markanday explained.

“That’s the aim of this programme, to show people that there are opportunities and that if you get the opportunity you can take it and there can be good things that can come from it.

“For me, there were definitely opportunities out there.

“This is nothing to do with racism, it’s to do with knowing your talent and ultimately creating an opportunity for yourself which is what this is all about.

“I’m not sure it’s just about access, just the belief from the players, the families, to know there’s an opportunity and it can happen.

“Even though you hear people say that the chances of becoming a pro are so slim, you have to back yourself and if you have the talent then there are opportunities out there for all players.”

The 20-year-old, born in Barnet and of Indian heritage, says he wants to become a role model, to all players, not just those from the South Asian community.

Rovers won the EFL’s inaugural diversity award earlier this year, with the work of integration and development manager Yasir Sufi widely praised.

Outside of his work with Rovers, Sufi runs a grassroots team, and says getting more South Asian youngsters playing the game regularly is key, given the undoubted interest in the sport.

“If there’s one thing that needs educating it’s that a lot of these kids don’t grow up with grassroots football,” he explained.

“The talent is out there, the problem can be that those hidden gems might not be playing grassroots football for whatever reason.

“But after days like this they can go home and say to mum and dad that they’d like to go and play more football.

“Talent is key, but from working within grassroots myself, it’s developing that love for football. Experiences like this do that.

“That’s where most footballers start, their development stage in terms of progressing into Academies and that’s where they tend to get found, that’s where the scouts are, so if they’re not playing in the grassroots set-up, how are they going to get found?

“The majority of these kids aren’t.”

Much of Sufi’s work is to make the club more inclusive and accessible, with Rovers’ Ewood Express initiative, providing transport from local schools and mosques to games at Ewood Park, widely praised.

Working within grassroots himself, Sufi says there is a clear appetite for the game, but it is encouraging participation and involvement which is key.

“One of the biggest things that we have to recognise is that the demographic within the town itself has been changing over the years,” he added.

“We have to open up the pathways and make them see how open Rovers is as a football club to them, for different reasons, whether that be to come and watch a game, to come to an event, for a tour.

“We are working with the PFA to recognise the representation within Academies and the professional game, if there’s one community that’s lacking it’s the South Asian community and we have to try and address the problems with that and days like this we hope to make that pathway a bit clearer for both the parents but for the children as well.

“We’re one town, one club, one community and the one thing I’ve seen, especially over the last year, is that football has an important way of bringing people together.

“One of the biggest positives is supporters from all communities saying that they’re loving the work of the club and what it’s doing and they want to see more of it. It’s really refreshing.”

While the scheme has been led by the PFA, Rovers were keen to get on board, providing the coaching sessions for the children, who could earn themselves a spot within the club’s foundation programme should they have impressed sufficiently.

“We have been working with the PFA and the statistics are there, and it’s important that clubs work hard to integrate within their community and provide opportunities for young players and certainly within this group of young South Asian players that we increase the numbers and that’s about providing opportunity and hopefully creating a generation of South Asian players that can inspire the next generation,” said head of Academy Stuart Jones.

“I think it’s really important for the football club and Academy because ultimately we have a lot of South Asian people within our community and it’s really important we work with the community and provide opportunities for young players to come and express their talent and show what they’re about,”

“It’s also about giving them a chance to enjoy the Academy environment and work with our coaching staff and have a really good few hours.”


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